We spent the last of our six days in Nova Scotia in the company of our fellow RCGS Resolute passengers. Before boarding our One Ocean Expeditions ship and setting sail from Sydney, Nova Scotia to Iqaluit, Nunavut, we settled into comfortable charter bus seats for a half-day excursion to the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site.
We’re introverts, and were concerned about social overwhelm on the ten-day expedition cruise (yes, despite the small ship size = maximum 146 passengers)! So we opted to go our own way at Fortress of Louisbourg. The downside? Skipping the guided tour meant we didn’t get the full story of North America’s largest historical reconstruction, showcasing French colonial life between 1713 and 1758. If we’d done a little more advance research, we’d have downloaded the the free Louisbourg Guided Tour app, available for both Android and iOS.
From the bus parking area, the King’s Bastion beckoned. But we’d done enough advance research to know we wanted our first stop to be the King’s bakery, so we headed the opposite direction, into the old town.
While we were trying to orient ourselves using the map the tour guide handed us as we climbed down from the bus, a couple of guys dressed in period costume walked past. They were happy to help us out with directions and even happier to talk about how they made their costumes, including the musket balls they carried in their ammo pouches.
Mr GeoK hefted one of the muskets (not loaded, safely aimed at a thick stone wall) before we headed down a side street to the bakery, where we purchased a lovely, round loaf of sourdough, partly whole-wheat bread that was baked in the stone ovens very early that morning.
It was close to lunch time, so as we tore off and chewed chunks of the dry bread (would have been more enjoyable with butter and jam), we explored several other buildings in the old town, including the stables…
…and the Engineer’s residence.
Appetites tamed, we finally headed off to explore the King’s Bastion, including the guardhouse, the military chapel, the governor’s apartments and the barracks, which long ago housed more than 500 men.
The views from the fortified walls made it easy to see some of the Fortress of Louisbourg’s key weaknesses: it was built on low-lying ground and was oriented to fend off sea-based attacks.
Since we’d be boarding our small adventure ship later in the day, we also wanted to get in a bit of a walk. Our approach to the Dauphin Gate provided a different perspective on the old town quay and the Frederic Gate.
Departing via the Dauphin Gate, we walked past a transit bus stop and across a short causeway and then part way along the Old Town Trail to a pair of Parks Canada “share the chairs”.
Even a bit of distance reinforced just how low-lying the Fortress site is.
Returning via the Dauphin Gate, we witnessed the Prisoner of the Day paid visitor experience and stopped for pulled pork BBQ sandwiches before walking past the Louisbourg Cross to board our bus back to Sydney harbour.
A mostly enjoyable half-day outing, we were astounded at how many period-costumed people were on site. Some have tent-style booths set up to sell period-appropriate items. Others hang out for at least part of the summer, enjoying the “summer camp” vibe. But throw in the fact that most of this site is a reconstruction and for us it became a bit Disney-esque. Maybe if we’d had time to visit current day Louisbourg, our perspective would be different. Or maybe we should have embraced the slightly theme-park atmosphere and anted up for a more immersive experience.
What do you think? Do period re-enactments at National Historic Sites work to bring history alive? Do they help bring more visitors? Or do they risk being viewed as amusement parks without any rides?